LONDON. Collectors find the accent on colour and art historical references as dealers seek to banish economic blues
Exhibitors at Frieze were understandably nervous as the event opened to invited VIP guests yesterday morning. The fair is the first major event of the packed autumn art market season, taking place against a backdrop of renewed economic turmoil.
“We’re always a little tense at the start,” said Olivier Bélot of Yvon Lambert (H2), although he was encouraged by the immediate sale of three sculptures by the US-based artist Nick van Woert for around $35,000.
With such a diverse array of works of art on show at the fair, it is difficult to pick out trends, but overall, it seems that dealers are not taking any risks this year.
One trend is clear—a tendency to reference art history through appropriation or homage, or even by displaying older works themselves. White Cube (F11) is making a statement with Jake and Dinos Chapman’s The Milk of Human Weakness II with God Does Not Love You—O.M.F.G., 2011, a sculpture and painting of a ghoulish Madonna and child combined with everyday furniture. The Chapmans’ work is far from the only example at Frieze.
Rodeo from Istanbul (G22) devotes most of its booth to the past, including Two Faced Crop Jock, 2011, two photographs priced €2,700 by Shahryar Nashat of objects from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. “I am interested in the history of images and art historical references,” said director Sylvia Kouvali.
At Wilkinson Gallery (G3), Mark Alexander has copied Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510, for All Watched over by Machines of Infinite Loving Grace, 2011. Priced £95,000, it quickly sold to the Olbricht Collection in Essen, Germany. “The imagery is very contemporary,” says Anthony Wilkinson, the gallery’s co-director.
Annely Juda’s stand (G1) is dominated by a huge fibreglass take on Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, 1891, by Darren Lago, but with the twist that the writer’s head and feet are replaced by those of a famous mouse. Mickey de Balzac (grand), 2009-11, is priced £48,000.
A carpet by Marius Engh covers the large booth of Standard Oslo (F26). Victory over the Sun (€30,000), 2011, is a re-creation of the centrepiece of the Italian director Pasolini’s 1975 film “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom”. Cabinet (D16) takes the trend to another extreme with Jacques Vaché’s drawing Les Bons Rastas (€75,000), 1918, from the collection of his friend, the surrealist André Breton.
Meanwhile, dealers are doing their bit to make sure the mood inside the Frieze tent defies the economic gloom. Many of the works of art are more brightly coloured this year, reinforcing the feeling that the market exists in a parallel universe. Could this be an attempt to cheer up visitors?
“It has always been considered slightly taboo to use colour in conceptual circles, because it is so immediately pleasing,” says Lisa Panting of Hollybush Gardens (E21), which is showing a pink and lemon-yellow assemblage, Andrea Büttner’s Corner (£6,000), 2011.
Evidently, this year is more about pleasing than challenging the public. Paul Kasmin of Paul Kasmin Gallery (G2), whose booth is dominated by bright colours, not least Will Ryman’s pink flowers—Rose, 2011, is priced $275,000—says: “I’ve never been afraid of beauty.”
Victoria Miro (G5) is dominated by eye-catching multicoloured works, including Yayoi Kusama’s huge sculpture Tulip with All My Love 3–1 ($450,000), 2011, and her Fruits EPSOB, 2011, which sold early on for $270,000. “[The bright colours] appeal to all ages, from children to 83-year-olds,” says Glenn Scott Wright, one of the gallery’s co-directors. Berlin’s Giti Nourbakhsch (F25) has three vibrant wall-mounted sculptures by Berta Fischer (Pikibus, priced €4,000, Slofo, €20,000, and Rugafir, €15,000, all 2011). “It’s not only about beauty but the power of colour. I want to inject [the booth] with a little bit of punk,” says Nourbakhsch.
No sex, we’re British
In a recession, more challenging work is harder to shift, and this year—unlike last year’s edition—sexually explicit art is a no-no. Even where there is nudity, it is softened. Zeno X Gallery (C4) is showing small collages of 1960s Japanese soft-porn images, which the artist Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven has covered up with cut-outs of Chinese tigers (5 Tigres, €4,000 each, 2011). As for comment on the political or economic backdrop, only a few galleries confront the situation. Dubai’s The Third Line (H11) has Pouran Jinchi’s transparent cylinders inscribed with Cyrus the Great’s charter of human rights from the sixth century BC. “This was the first charter of human rights in the world, and is also a reference to the Arab Spring,” says Sunny Rahbar, the gallery’s director.
Overall, the art dealers at the fair seem to be playing safe, with a predominance of painting—always the easiest art to sell—and many relatively affordable works on paper (including photography). And who can blame them in such uncertain economic times?
By Georgina Adam, Melanie Gerlis and Gareth Harris
From Frieze daily edition, 13 Oct 11